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International students who wanted to stand with the Graduate Employees’ Organization strike faced a catch-22: cross the picket line or potentially face the risks that come with not working or attending school, which could include loss of government visas.
Prior to accepting the University of Michigan administration’s proposal to end their strike, GEO attracted support from students across campus. However, international students mobilized on behalf of GEO in notably large numbers, according to GEO Secretary Amir Fleischmann, who said many of the group’s international student allies were picketing.
He said he was grateful for their help. However, Fleishmann said he wanted to recognize the risks these students took by actively supporting the strike, noting that he was in the same situation.
“I’m an international student myself,” Fleischmann said. “I don’t know when I’ll be able to visit my family again, because I’m not sure I’ll be allowed back in the country if I leave.”
Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, President Donald Trump rolled out a number of immigration restrictions, some of which targeted temporary work visas. Though this should not affect employees that are already in the country, it could impact their citizenship status if they choose to leave. This has caused some major concern for international students at the University, many of whom are afraid to go home and visit their families as a result.
Fleischmann said he felt extremely disappointed by the University’s International Center, saying that the International Center did not have a phone number for international students to call about these issues.
“And that’s all the while charging a $500-per-term student fee for international students, which is discriminatory,” Fleishmann said.
University of Michigan Law Professor James Hathaway wrote in an email to The Michigan Daily that he believes that all students have the legal right to assemble on campus, citing Article 22 of the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as evidence. The article states that “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”
“The UN Human Rights Committee — which governments, including the US, has established to interpret the Covenant — has made clear that ‘everyone’ includes non-citizens under a state party’s jurisdiction (including of course foreign students on the UM campuses),” Hathaway wrote.
LSA senior Jiaheng He, former president of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, said he has also struggled with a lack of support from the International Center. Having worked closely with both GEO and the International Center last year, He said the University needs to find a better way to prioritize students’ safety on campus.
“I never felt that this kind of thing would be happening to me,” He said. “We need to do all of this to keep all of us safe, but the school has the power and resources to make it easier for everyone … One thing I want to note is that for international students, if they get COVID here, their support is really limited. It’s hard to file a claim. Most people don’t have any family or relatives nearby. You’re basically on your own.”
Daily Staff Reporter Isobel Grant can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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